St Nicks bird records broken – twice! 24 months of Shieldbug records. Spring flowers start to emerge.
Mainly sunny and calm on Wildwatch Wednesdays, apart from the 17th, with temperatures between 2C and 8C
Who says that February is a boring month? This month, the St Nicks Wildwatch bird species record was broken.. twice! Prior to 3rd February, the record number of birds seen on a Wildwatch Wednesday was 28 species. On the 3rd February this year, we saw, on a sunny, calm morning, 29 species, including some locally scarce species, such as Common Buzzard (being mobbed by two Carrion Crows), Grey Wagtail (by Osbaldwick Beck) and a Kingfisher by Tang Hall Beck (breaking a sightings absence of several years for a very excited Kaj!).
The 10th was a slightly quieter morning, bird-wise, but a respectable 26 species were seen, including Great Spotted Woodpecker and, along Osbaldwick Beck, a Treecreeper, both being scarce birds at St Nicks.
It was a cold and wet morning on the 17th, with no outstanding bird records, but, on the 24th, another sunny morning, the bird record was broken yet again, with 30 species being seen by various members of the team, including second sightings this month of Grey Wagtail, Common Buzzard, Kingfisher (two sightings on Tang Hall Beck, including one with a fish), Great Spotted Woodpecker (almost certainly a pair, with one bird drumming). Kestrel, a very scarce bird at St Nicks, was seen perched and a Sparrowhawk sighting brought the birds of prey total to three species – another day record?
During the month, a total of 34 bird species was recorded on the four Wildwatch Wednesdays, not a bad catch for a “dreary” month!
Away from “records”, it’s worth noting that bird song is on the increase, with Robins in full voice and setting up breeding territories, along with Dunnocks, chasing around in their frequent threesomes, Bullfinches apparently courting (see photo) and Great Tits rendering their “teacher-teacher” calls. Yes, Spring is coming!
Catkin-bearing trees often have a very long flowering period to improve their chances of favourable conditions for pollination. So all the trees reported in January were still in flower at the end of February, with the addition of Aspen at the end of Osbaldwick Beck and on the boundary with the Mosque. These seem to have a much shorter flowering period, so look for them before the middle of March to see them at their best. More and more Prunus sp. are in blossom, giving a scatter all over the reserve.
The tally of other plants in flower rose from 8 at the start of the month to 11 by the end, with a total of 14 species recorded on at least one occasion. Gorse predictably continued to put on a fine show throughout. Flowers on a single bush of Broom were surprisingly early. Lungwort came into flower at the beginning of the month and should last a fair bit longer. Snowdrops varied a lot: those in the Osbaldwick Beck and Dragon Stones small ones areas already looked pretty by the end of January, whereas the big patches near Tang Hall Beck are only just fully out.
One or two daffodils, including a small variety descended from native wild species, were out by 11th. Lesser celandines have been notably wary. Odd ones can be found here and there but none of the patches are putting on a full show yet. Coltsfoot too is no earlier than usual, with just one flower found half-open on 24th. A few Primroses are out near the bottom of the Bund steps, and more unusually a single rather anaemic looking Cowslip was in flower beyond the Dragon Stones. The patch near the meadow is more orthodox with plenty of leaves coming up, but little sign of buds yet. Dandelions took advantage of a spell of sunny days, but only under the pines at the Rawdon Avenue entrance, where Red Dead-nettle also flowered. As ever, White Dead-nettle can be found in a variety of locations. Groundsel and Hairy Bitter-cress were also recorded.
Insects appeared only in small numbers during the month, with 7-Spot and Harlequin Ladybirds and a few Bluebottle flies Calliphora sp. Limnephilus Caddis Fly larvae were moving in the pond, cased in fragments of twig and leaf; and in decaying wood out on the reserve a striking red-headed ground beetle identified as Ocys harpaloides was seen. On the last Wildwatch walk of the month, the first queen Bumblebee Bombus was briefly seen but not identified to species, though probably one of the two early species: terrestris or pratorum. Bumblebee colonies die off in the autumn, leaving just the queen to hibernate. After emerging from winter hibernation a queen will gain strength by feeding on the nectar and pollen of early flowers and blossom, often Pussy Willow and White Dead-nettle, before starting her work of prospecting for a suitable nesting site.
Gorse Shieldbugs were seen (often in clusters) at their food plant on three of the four Wildwatch walks of the month, including one where the overnight temperature had fallen to minus 3 degrees celsius. This is the 24th consecutive month they have been observed at St Nicks, so are clearly very hardy creatures. It prompts the question why the other eight shieldbug species recorded at St Nicks are never seen between November and March (though a Hawthorn Shieldbug, photographed on the reserve this month by one of our rangers, bucked the trend).
Other invertebrates were found by lifting some of the reserve’s many dead logs. A wonderful variety of creatures inhabit these regions including ground beetles, springtails, harvestmen, woodlice, snails, slugs, centipedes and millipedes. January’s blog included pictures of a number of these, most of which were also seen during February. Five of the UK’s six commoner species of woodlice were seen: Shiny, Rough, Striped, Pill and Pygmy, while Flat-backed and two species of snake millipedes were abundant. Centipedes of Lithobius and Geophilus genera were present but less abundant. Springtails of Dicyrtomina, Entomobria, Tomocerus and Orchesella genera were seen. The harvestman was the usual ground-level species Nemastoma bimaculatum. Several were spotted. Ground beetles included Ocys harpaloides mentioned above, and the black-bodied orange-legged Leistus fulvibarbis.
A single tentative sighting of Water Vole in Osbaldwick Beck on the 10th was the only record, but there were sightings of more than one Brown Rat here on all four Wildwatch Wednesdays, so the Water Vole record cannot be confirmed. Grey Squirrels were seen on all four days, but Rabbit was only seen on the 24th.
All photos were taken at St Nicks in February 2016.